Stuff We Like: Raymond Chandler
Do you ever have a hankering for a certain kind of book?
A really good mystery novel is what I crave in the spring. I don't understand the connection, but it's what I want to read when it warms up. Well, that and any Willa Cather.
Lately my hankering has been satiated by Raymond Chandler. I worked my way through the Everyman's Library edition last spring. Had my husband not purged his books so thoroughly, I would probably just work my way through it again, because it's so delightful: murder, cover-ups, drugs, and John Doe corpses — a lovely spring tradition.
I acquired a taste for the mystery genre when I read John Grisham's first novel. I must have been in my early 20s when I read The Firm, and it was a quick romp. It wets the ol' whistle for more. I then worked my way through some Michael Crichton, Daniel Silva, and various others who write the airport novels that get turned into summer blockbusters.
Chandler's books have been made into movies, too, but it's his prose that is so enjoyable. It's hard not to love the semi-alcoholic bachelor Philip Marlowe. He's been hardened by years of dealing with the morning-after mess of love and loss.
Be it nature or professional nurture, Marlowe is a natural observer. He's a database of human psychology and shares his knowledge abundantly. That's what separates the Chandler mystery from the average — the prose isn't just filler for the action. It's an integral part of the story that makes you nod or laugh out loud with agreement.
All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare.
There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo’s rapier or Lucrezia’s poison vial.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne.
There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review.
There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.
And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent- mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.
Who can make it through that thorough description without both nodding AND laughing?
Now, where to start, you ask? The above hilarious description is from The Long Goodbye. You could start there.
I started with The Lady in the Lake simply because it was the first story in the Everyman's Library edition of Raymond Chandler. I read that one and kept right on reading.
Enjoy and let me know what you think.
(If you're already a Chandler fan and you enjoy podcasts, I recommend this episode of Criminal. Two Chandler fans help solve a mystery of the final chapter of Chandler's life.)